Thursday, 18 August 2011

Why isn't he dead yet?

[This is the headline over a long and important article by Justice for Megrahi's secretary, Robert Forrester, published online today in the Scottish Review. The first few and last few paragraphs read as follows:]

Here we go again. As the anniversary of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's compassionate release approaches, we enter what has become the annual 'Lockerbie Bomber' blood fest. On the menu: politicos on both sides of the pond bewailing the fact that the man isn't dead; journalists, editors and pro-Zeist commentators attempting to stir up ill-informed public opinion with their equally ill-informed views, the Scottish government on the defensive, etc, etc.

And, one must ask, amongst these worthies, have any even bothered to read the Zeist trial transcript or the judgement, let alone done any further and deeper research into the trial and the investigation into the tragedy of Lockerbie? Doubtful.

The evidence against Mr al-Megrahi was entirely circumstantial. The fact that he was selected as the candidate is based on a determination to find a best fit for the frame and to build a case around this construct to the exclusion of eliminating any flies in the ointment by making assumption upon supposition upon thin air. Such is not the stuff of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is not justice, it is guess work. Guess work which provides a convenient fix, condemns and vilifies an individual (and his nation), dupes the bereaved and the public at large, and cripples the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system. (...)

In the last few days Dr [Jim] Swire, a Justice for Megrahi committee member, has expressed concern that Mr al-Megrahi could find himself either being assassinated by the US or, should the Libyan rebels manage to get hold of him, they would hand him over to the Americans so that he might benefit from a whole new slant on healthcare. Lest it be forgotten, the US agreed to the arrangements for the Zeist trial. Despite this, though, successive American administrations claiming to represent the voice of the American people, which quite clearly they don't, have shown no compunction when it comes to trampling over the sovereignty and sensibilities of others, have 'renditioned' their enemies for the purposes of torture to countries where such practices are par for the course, endorse a criminal justice system that seems to think that financial inducement in return for testimony is acceptable (...) and recognise no laws other than their own are clearly not going to bat an eyelid over the fact that Mr al-Megrahi is still a Scottish prisoner released under licence. It is a sorry world in which we live when the leaders of the most powerful 21st century, self-proclaimed Christian country have yet to mature beyond Urban II's 1095 call to arms.

The justice campaign lobbying the Scottish Parliament is not some random collection of fruitcake conspiracy theorists, despite the barricades set up by governments, the dizzyingly circular arguments presented by the crown and the vilification thrown at them by their pro-Zeist critics ('whores of a terrorist syndicate' being my own particular favourite). It comprises renowned figures from the worlds of the legal profession, politics, academia, the clergy, the police, journalism, and the arts etc as well as professionals who attended the crash site. But above all, it lists members of the bereaved and others who sat through every day of the trial. This is an issue which is crying out for an independent inquiry. It requires supreme courage on the part of the Scottish Government to show that we are not afraid to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that we are simply human and are capable of making mistakes no matter how hard we may try to avoid them.

It is also important to recognise that whilst there may well have been an element of malice involved in the case and its outcome, the majority of the problems associated with it are more likely a result of blind fixation, laziness, idiocy and a desperate need to avoid the excruciating embarrassment of not producing a conviction in the most high-profile case ever to come before a Scots court, dealing, as it was, with such a tragic case of mass murder.

Ultimately then, the question ought not to be should Mr al-Megrahi have been released, or why is he still alive, but why was he convicted in the first instance?

[Here is a response to this article published in the 23 August edition of the Scottish Review:]

I was disappointed in Robert Forrester's article (18 August) on Megrahi. He confuses the legitimate debate about the guilt of Megrahi with the release on medical grounds.

At the time I have no doubt that Dr Andrew Fraser acted in good faith. But, and it is a big but, it has never been made clear as to the medical opinions on which he based his report to the justice secretary. As an associate member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons – a membership offered to me by BAUSCH because of my work on prostate disease including cancer – I expressed serious concerns about the decision at the time.

Readers may remember that in the three weeks before the medical opinion stating that 'he was likely to die within three months' (first week, August 2009) the experts including urological oncologists (prostate cancer specialists) had stated a likely survival of 10 to 24 or more months. This sudden change has never been explained.

Who actually conducted the review and examination beyond the local GP medical officer at Greenock is unclear. The government's failure to publish the detailed facts and timeline adds to the anguish felt by some of the families.

The dropping of the appeal, a decision which was not a necessary prerequisite of release on medical grounds, has led to the confused thinking this article portrays. Has Megrahi even been asked if all the medical facts can be published? It would be interesting to know whether he refused treatment in Greenock rather than hinting at inadequacies in Scotland's treatment of his condition, which is an unbelievable slur promoted here.

Dr Richard Simpson MSP is shadow public health and sport minister.

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